VFH Announces 2016-2017 Residential Fellowships and Upcoming Fellows Talks

Fellowships  •  News

Charlottesville, VA—Virginia Foundation for the Humanities (VFH) announces fourteen humanities scholars in residence during the 2016-2017 year. The Fellows, their affiliations, and projects are as follows.

VFH 2016-2017 Residential Fellows

Frank Brannon – Independent author, SpeakEasy Press, Charlottesville
Will It Survive? A History of Cherokee Printing

John Frank Brannon Jr. has been working with the Cherokee community in western North Carolina for six years, focused primarily on letterpress printing for the Sequoyan writing system—a first time effort since the nineteenth century. The community’s members believe printing has been vital for language revitalization efforts as the language is in risk of extinction. Building upon his previous scholarship into the history of early Cherokee printing, Brannon will document its printing to the present, within the context of Cherokee history and the larger world. History and language will be interwoven, presenting a microcosm of the plight of Native American languages in the United States.

Don DeBats – American Studies, Flinders University (Australia)
Black and White Oral Voting in the First Enfranchisement

Newly Discovered Voices From America’s Most Turbulent Time: Black and White Oral Voting in the First Enfranchisement is a new multiyear, NEH funded project that builds on Donald DeBat’s earlier digital project, Voting Viva Voce, but this time investigates individual voting behaviors, black and white, following the U.S. Civil War and black male enfranchisement in the 15th Amendment. Two Kentucky counties with large African American populations and contrasting economics and historical information are the focus. Only Kentucky continued oral or viva voce voting after black enfranchisement, creating in poll books a treasure trove of never before used individual political data. His project focuses on the context in which voting occurred—linking census, tax and membership records (religious affiliation as possible) for all residents.

Martien Halvorson-Taylor – Religious Studies, University of Virginia
The Song of Songs in Diachronic and Synchronic Perspective

The Song of Songs, otherwise known as the Song of Solomon or Canticles, is one of the more surprising books in the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament: It is an erotic love poem. That it begins and ends with the voice of a woman, whose desires, vision, and perception of the world dominate, and that it does not mention God are but a few of the features that make the Song unusual within the wider biblical canon. Martien Halvorson-Taylor’s project is to provide both a “diachronic” and “synchronic” view onto this surprising book. A diachronic view traces the growth of the Song—its origins, formation, and the editing by which it became a literary unity. A synchronic approach, which focuses on the present form of the text and its literary features, takes special care to note the artistry of the book’s extraordinary poetry, its use of language from the natural world, not to mention its vital status within reception history. When we do both, Halvorson-Taylor argues, we can begin to understand how this remarkable book claimed its place within the religious and literary imagination of Jews and Christians, and as perhaps the most significant piece of religious poetry.

Kate Jones – History, University of California, Santa Cruz
Child Prisoners and the Limits of Citizenship in the New South

Between the end of the Civil War and the establishment a statewide juvenile court system in the early 1920s, Virginia incarcerated hundreds of children under the age of eighteen. Through an examination of the lives of children imprisoned in Virginia’s Penitentiary between 1865 and 1921 Catherine (Kate) Jones’ project investigates the relationship between the emergence of child protection as a state responsibility and the availability of meaningful justice for children and their families. Specifically, it seeks to explain the sources of an undeniable continuity across legal regimes: the disproportionate vulnerability of black children to incarceration and state violence.

Paul D. Jones – Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Patience: A Theological Exploration

Paul Dafydd Jones is writing a new account of how two relatively neglected terms—“patience” and “impatience”—might nourish novel thinking about a cluster of issues: creation and providence, the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth, the Trinity, the open-ended quality of human life, and the imperative to work for social justice. Patience: A Theological Exploration is a constructive statement in the field of Christian theology with forays into western philosophy of religion, political theory, and critical theory.

Thomas P. Kapsidelis – Independent Author, Richmond
Higher Aim: Guns, Safety and Healing in the Era of Mass Shootings

Journalist Thomas Kapsidelis plans to continue researching and writing a book to examine unresolved issues in the aftermath of the April 16, 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech. The book will follow survivors and others deeply affected by the tragedy as they work to shape laws, policies and practices to prevent repeated mass violence. Virginia’s history with gun issues and its proximity to Washington make the state an appropriate place to study the impact of reform movements led by survivors.

Sarah Milov – History, University of Virginia
Growing the Cigarette: Tobacco in the Twentieth Century

Growing the Cigarette is a revisionist history of tobacco in the twentieth century that takes farmers, government officials and citizen-activists as its main characters. By looking beyond “Big Tobacco,” Sarah Milov demonstrates that, paradoxically, smoking was a product of an expanded vision of the state, and that the politics of antismoking were born of an impulse to make visible the costs of smoking to smokers, the state, and workplaces.

Kiki Petrosino – English, University of Louisville
White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia – Exploring Virginia’s Complex Racial History Through Poetry

White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia is a book of poems addressing the complex racial landscape of Virginia and the Upper South. This work will be informed by Courtney Petrosino’s unique perspective as a mixed-race descendant of free and enslaved Afro-Virginians with roots in Prince William and Louisa Counties; as an alumna of the University of Virginia; and as a current resident of Kentucky, where the Lewis and Clark expedition launched. These poems, ranging from deeply personal to historical, will contemplate what it means to claim a mixed-race Virginian heritage today, contending with the painful legacies of racial separatism so memorably formulated by Jefferson in his Notes on the State of Virginia.

Lynn Rainville – Humanities, Sweet Briar College
Mobilizing for and Commemorating the Great War in Virginia, 1915-2015

Many assume that World War I was won and lost in the death fields of Europe. In her forthcoming book, Lynn Rainville reveals how much America owed it battlefield successes to preparations back on the home front. Using Virginia as a case example, she surveys the surprisingly large role of the Old Dominion and its citizens during The Great War. Virginia contributed in a myriad of ways: from nursing units in base hospitals to equestrian remount stations and from ammunition plants to the newly invented airplane flying fields. Although over 100,000 Virginians were drafted and more than 3,600 lost their lives, today their names and sacrifices have been largely forgotten. Rainville’s book, “Virginia in the Great War,” carefully traces the vestiges of these wartime contributions. 

Paula Seniors – Africana Studies/Sociology, Virginia Tech
For Freedom Now: African American Woman Radical Activists (1958-1984)

Paula Marie Seniors is continuing her research and writing on the lives of African American working class communist women Mae Mallory, Ethel Azalea Johnson, Audrey Seniors, and Pat Mallory of the Negroes With Guns Movement and the Monroe Defense Committee. Her overarching question seeks to answer why they chose radical activism, socialism and self-defense as a means of promoting for civil right in the United States. Her book will explore why they aligned themselves with Tanzanian, Grenadian, and Nicaraguan revolutionary governments and linked the struggle for black civil rights to international revolution.

Jon Sensbach – History, University of Florida
The Art of Freedom: Camille Pissarro and the Age of Emancipation

This study explores slavery and emancipation through the work of the Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro (1830-1903). Sometimes called the “Father of Impressionism,” Pissarro was a native of the Caribbean who came of age during the revolutions of 1848 and a cycle of slave rebellions and abolitions during the 1830s and 1840s. Heavily influenced by the coming of black freedom, Pissarro’s West Indian studies of former slaves in the first blush of liberation anticipated his emergence as an influential avant-garde artist and left a rich visual archive of freed people. While probing the Caribbean origins of Impressionism, Jon Sensbach’s study uses Pissarro’s art as a window onto black Atlantic life after emancipation.

Earl Swift – Independent Author, Crozet
Tangier Island: The Long Life and Prospective Demise of a Storied Island Community

Settled since 1778 and populated by that first family’s descendants, Tangier is one of two inhabited offshore islands in the Chesapeake Bay and a leading center for the pursuit of the bay’s famed blue crab. But throughout its recorded history it has been disappearing: Since 1850, already tiny Tangier has lost an average of eight acres of upland and marsh per year, and has thus dwindled to a third of the size it enjoyed during the Civil War. Just in the past twenty years, erosion has also claimed the shoals and marsh that guarded the entrances to the harbor and densely settled Main Ridge–so that today the island and its 470 residents are wide open to storms from most points of the compass. A single strong hit could take it out. And while this physical drama has unfolded, Tangier’s population is suffering a demographic collapse that threatens the feasibility of any government efforts to save it. Earl Swift is spending much of 2016 on the island to chronicle its fight for survival.

Greg Wilson – History, University of Akron
Toxic Dust: The Virginia Kepone Disaster and the Legacy of Chlorinated Insecticides

Research from Greg Wilson’s project will result in a book that examines the development, use, and legacy of Kepone, the brand name of the insecticide chlordecone that contaminated the James River in 1975 and poisoned workers who produced it in Hopewell. In Virginia and the United States, publicity from the contamination led to significant changes in environmental law and policy. Globally, Kepone’s toxic legacy landed the chemical among the “Dirty Dozen” persistent organic pollutants (POPs) banned under the provisions of the Stockholm Convention. Although used domestically in ant and roach traps, Kepone made its way to Europe to battle the Colorado potato beetle and to the Caribbean to eradicate the banana root borer. The story of Kepone is not only intensely local and personal, but also follows state, regional, national, and global pathways. Wilson hopes to illuminate the often contested values between humans and their environments through the history of this insecticide.

Doug Winiarski – Religious Studies, University of Richmond
Shakers, Jerkers & the Shawnee Prophet: Religious Encounters on the Early American Frontier, 1805-1815

Douglas Winiarski will be researching and writing The Shakers and the Shawnee Prophet, a micro-historical book project that explores the extraordinary intercultural encounter that unfolded between the Shakers and members of the pan-Indian nativist movement led by Tenskwatawa—brother of the prominent Shawnee war captain Tecumseh—between 1805 and 1815. It will be the first book-length study to establish direct connections between the Great Revival (1799–1805) and new religious movements that developed simultaneously among the Native peoples of the Old Northwest. Written for a general audience interested in frontier history, American evangelicalism, and Native American religions, The Shakers and the Shawnee Prophet is a powerful story that will resonate with readers struggling to come to terms with the troubled relationship between religion and racial violence in our own time.

Fellows Talks

Each semester, VFH invites the public to learn more about the diverse and fascinating areas of the humanities explored by our Fellows through lunchtime talks featuring each Fellow in informal conversation about his or her research. The following Fellows Talks are free and open to the public; a light lunch will be provided:


12-1 PM at the VFH Conference Center, 145 Ednam Drive, Charlottesville

Tuesday, October 4 – Kiki Petrosino
White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia – Exploring Virginia’s Complex Racial History Through Poetry

Tuesday, October 18 – Deborah Lee
Love and Debt: “A True Story” of Mary Ann Cord, John T. Lewis, and Mark Twain at Quarry Farm

Tuesday, November 1 – Don DeBats
A New View of Reconstruction

Tuesday, November 15 – Earl Swift
Going Down Slow: The Long, Strange Life and Threatened Demise of Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay

Tuesday, December 6 – Aprilfaye Manalang, Norfolk State University
Religion, Citizenship and Military Service: How Religion Shapes Citizenship Among America’s Newer Immigrants


12-1 PM at the Library of Virginia, 800 E. Broad Street, Richmond

Tuesday, November 22 – Greg Wilson
Toxic Dust: The Virginia Kepone Disaster and the Legacy of Chlorinated Insecticides

Thursday, December 1 – Kate Jones
Child Prisoners and the Limits of Citizenship in the New South


About the Fellowship Program

The VFH Residential Fellowship Program supports humanities scholars and writers whose work is intellectually stimulating, imaginative, and accessible to the public, promoting greater understanding of and access to the humanities. To date it is the only residential fellowship program among all fifty-six state humanities councils. Fellowship projects explore the humanities broadly, including history, literature, folklife, and historical and contemporary cultures.

“For nearly twenty years, our Residential Fellowship Program has been a source of connection and discovery for humanities scholars and their audiences,” says Rob Vaughan, VFH president. “VFH has helped more than 350 Fellows from Virginia and around the world complete research, publish books, and create exhibits and films.”

VFH Residential Fellowships are open to faculty members in the humanities, independent scholars, and others working on projects in the humanities. The annual proposal deadline is December 1. For more information, please visit http://virginiahumanities.org/fellowships/.

About VFH

The mission of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities is to connect people and ideas to explore the human experience and inspire cultural engagement. VFH reaches an estimated annual audience of 23 million through community programs, digital initiatives, grants and fellowships, radio programs, and the Virginia Center for the Book. To learn more, visit http://virginiahumanities.org/.